I try to make sense of what this past week in baseball felt like to me as a Black woman. Try.
Here I am, sitting here, trying to figure out what words I possess within me to describe this past week in baseball and the only thing I can think about is that I’m about to go a baseball game where I know — outside of the Black women that work in the service industry — that I will probably be the one of like four Black women in that building.
And then it dawns on me: this week has made me feel more of an outsider than ever before. Before, I felt like I didn’t belong in the first place. Now I know I don’t.
The beginning of the week was a gift, literally and figuratively. The Pirates called up Gift Ngoepe. Gift, who has been in the Pirates farm system for almost five years, would be the first player from the continent of Africa in Major League Baseball. Africa. 50-something countries. He’s the first.
For me, as a person of African descent, it was such a joy to witness. And came with pride to be on the right side of history, to be a fan of a team that facilitated something that should have happened years ago (in my mind, at least.).
All I saw on Twitter: Gift. Africa. First. His first hit made me beam. That scene when first-base coach, Kimera Bartee, another man of color, gave him a side hug will forever sit with me. I never thought I’d witness the first of anything in sports and I have. I did.
But then the Pirates broadcast team said that Gift “spoke very articulate” about his call-up to the Majors and one of his teammates joked that Gift played with “lions and giraffes” in Africa before making it here in the leagues.
Joy deferred. Outsider once again revealed.
Those microaggressions just had to reveal themselves, right? In that moment? Of course. Because you can’t have any moment of Black people joy without others ruining it in ways that they’re probably not aware of.
The moment just couldn’t be. It had to be infiltrated by stupid.
Then Adam Jones happened and that’s when I knew that I was up against it.
Adam Jones was called a “nigger” by Red Sox fans. He had peanuts thrown at him too. One of the best outfielders in baseball, the guy that saved the USA during the World Baseball Classic. Treated like a sack of shit. And again, the responses were of defiance. “That’s not all baseball fans”, “this isn’t a reflection of the city of Boston as a whole”.
Somebody just told you that they were called a racial slur and assaulted with a food item and the first thing folks could do is jump on the defensive. Even worse, not issue an apology.
Or, like me, be so angry that I couldn’t even blink.
Adam Jones is one of my favorite players in baseball because he speaks up. He recognizes that men like him in the league are turning out to almost be an anomaly and he hates that. And wants to do something about it. Especially in a league that uses Jackie Robinson Day not as a day to speak up about diversity and inclusion but to say that “we did it first! We want a cookie!” Part of a very significant moment in civil rights history but then when you have one of your best player’s civil rights violated, all you can say is that “the behavior of these few ignorant individuals does not reflect the millions of great baseball fans who attend our games.”
Then Red Sox fans decided to give Jones a standing ovation the next day. Because, you know, it’s the right thing to do.
Felt so damn empty to me. But I get it.
The Red Sox have two African-American players in their outfield. One of them tweeted that he was “Black too.”
But then Jason Heyward said something. CC Sabathia said something. Validation in a sense, right? For me, it was that moment that I was almost always looking for. A moment where guys would stand up and say that these things happen and that they should change. And they did.
But it still felt like it fell on deaf ears because the story was hijacked by conspiracy theorists and Curt Schilling.
Again, defiance. And reckless naivety.
Then the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports released its annual ‘Racial and Gender Report Card for Major League Baseball’. And I ignored it. Because we already know what — or who — is not in it: Us.
Which makes me feel guilty for having one of the Blackest teams in baseball, a team that could put out a lineup that has seven players of African descent on it. Who just called up the first African player in Major League history. Who, before Starling Marte’s suspension, had an all-Black outfield and can still do that with utility players. A team that has the last African-American MVP. A player who won a World Baseball Classic championship with Adam Jones.
Who, this past week, was called a ‘nigger’.